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It's hard to remember a time when Tobias Sammet's music wasn't a part of my usual musical regimen, and Avantasia's comeback in 2008 has consistently provided us with larger than life, bombastic fun. The Scarecrow trilogy was just huge - they were albums that worked through how big they sounded and how they leapt from your speakers and grabbed you by the throat. Even though in retrospect some of it is very formulaic, the stylistic variation is fun and every style they try is done well. The conviction, style and flare on display was just unparalleled, and every other band that tried this kind of AOR power metal usually just fell flat. I have to say The Mystery of Time isn't quite as good as the three preceding Avantasia albums, but there's plenty to like here, too.
First, the good - this is a more cleverly written album than some of the previous ones, with the vocal parts from the various singers interwoven in the most professional way. Biff Byford, Ronnie Atkins and Michael Kiske all sound really good, and there's a bit more variation than Avantasia's usual technique of just trading off vocals for different verses. You can tell he was trying to do something different. The songwriting here is a bit less grandiose, instead focusing on texture and detail. The extended mellow bridge of album epic "Savior in the Clockwork" is very effective and creates a contrast with the heavier, more bombastic moments, and the towering, marching pace of "Black Orchid" isn't nearly as accessible as Tobi's stuff usually is, droning on for seven minutes of rather opaque, dramatic metal.
And the orchestral parts sound amazing and create a lot of good, frosty atmospheric moments, especially when blended with the power metal double-kicked moments. Check out "Where Clock Hands Freeze" - shit, that sounds good, transporting the listener right to the snow-covered ancient English cities Tobi wanted it to. "Spectres," as well, is a kick ass opener, blistering symphonic metal with a cool theatrical build up and the album's greatest chorus. It's very, very well produced, and the sense of professionalism is undeniable. The album flows very well too, never feeling like it's over an hour long. Even pop single "Sleepwalking" is really good, a genuinely beautiful little song that serves as a segue between the power metal all around it.
But really, a lot of this album is just kind of phoned in. The songwriting on the really good songs is great, but some of the other tracks just go through the motions. The album falters right out of the gates with "The Watchmaker's Dream" as track two - a very pedestrian hard rock/power metal track with a boring chorus, just the song title repeated a few times. "Invoke the Machine" kicks up some dust and has a lot of energy, but it still tends to feel like we've heard it before. If not for the stunning vocals of Eric Martin on "What's Left of Me," it would probably be the most generic Sammet ballad yet, and "Dwellers in a Dream" isn't Tobi at his A-game. The final epic "The Great Mystery" has a lot of good parts, but overall I guess I'm not much a fan of Tobi's more pensive epics, as many of them just never get going the way I'd like.
If it sounds like I'm being too unfair to this given the score I awarded it, well, none of the songs are bad per se - it's just that the really good songs are SO good that you want the rest of the album to stack up. But a lot of the time, the more generic songs here just listen like placeholders before you get to the real meat, like "Black Orchid" or "Savior in the Clockwork," which are up there with Avantasia's best work. It is an uneven album overall, with a lot that tends to feel like filler. At Tobi's best, he can make entire albums feel vibrant and energized, but here it's kind of half and half. But I still listen to this fairly often when in the mood, so I can't exactly say it's a failure or anything. I just hope the next album is better.
Out of all the albums Avantasia had released that weren't "Metal Opera" related, I would have to say that "The Mystery of Time" is the best among them. Of course it was released way after the "Metal Opera" days had passed, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's horrendous in every sense of the term. It has its ups and, unsurprisingly, it has its downs. But the ups of this album are what make it greater than "The Scarecrow", at least in my own opinion.
Michael Kiske is no stranger to Avantasia, as he had sung with them before on "The Scarecrow", but on the song "Where Clock Hands Freeze", he gives quite possibly his most powerful vocal performance since Helloween. Especially during the chorus do you hear his soulful and energetic wail that punctuates the song's awesome power. The song opens with an orchestration, as a lot of songs do, but in this one, the orchestra starts softly, then it builds up to the high guitar power and fast tempo which makes up the song. It's one of the finest power metal songs we've heard in recent years, and you certainly wouldn't hear such a song on "Angel of Babylon". Most of the songs on that album were crafted to (probably) emulate some pop rock artists. Tobias Sammett tried to put a few elements that made it sound either goofy or unbearable to listen to. As a result, that album suffers dramatically. With "The Mystery of Time", however, we get more powerful songs that captivate the listener, like "Where Clock Hands Freeze".
"The Mystery of Time" also has quite a few surprises for us. One of which is the appearance of Saxon frontman Biff Byford. I was not expecting him to show up on an Avantasia album, 'cos I always expected him to be a rough, tough rock 'n roll kind of singer, like his band and the NWOBHM scene that it was part of. What we're hearing on "The Black Orchid", one of his three songs (yes, I did say three) is more of an energetic and dramatic voice that somehow doesn't sound out of place with the orchestration and the more serious nature of the song. It was quite a surprise for me, and I never expected Biff to pull it off. Come to think of it, I never expected an album with more rock-based songs could ever be better than a lot of the previous albums that tried to pull that off. "The Great Mystery" is a ten-minute track that sounds like a rock ballad, complete with a piano and everything. Almost six minutes into the song, it speeds up and starts to lose its more syrupy side, making sound more like an energetic Broadway musical number. Not that that's a bad thing, I mean, it's actually pretty good. Anything that isn't "Sleepwalking" (more on that one later).
Now, much of Avantasia's discography is albums with songs that sound more like Broadway musical numbers, but on "The Mystery of Time", they're done quite well. With the addition of the song "Where Clock Hands Freeze", a fast one, we sort of get the feel of a "Metal Opera" once more. The album's cover advertises it as "A Rock Epic", and I have a feeling that that's kind of what it is, exactly what it says on the tin. It's actually one of the closest things we have to the "Metal Opera" days since the title track of "The Scarecrow". The opening track, "Spectres" has a bit of synthesizers in the intro, but it makes up for that by having the orchestration gradually getting louder as it builds up to the song's main riff. The biggest problem I have with it, however, is the fact that it tends to slow down a lot. With a buildup like the one in the intro, you'd expect a song to be blasting and a little faster most of, if not all the way through. It gets softer during the verses, but it doesn't sound as bad as it does after the second chorus. It should be a little more energetic then.
Yeah, this album, despite its perks, isn't exactly the creme de la creme of all Avantasia albums. In particular, there's just one song that I hate, but not as much as "Symphony of Life" or "Carry Me Over". It's a song that has all of those horrid aspects that made both of those songs a pain to listen to. That song is "Sleepwalking". It's a lame, syrupy, pop rock-style ballad that isn't as bad as "Symphony of Life", but it comes pretty close. It's one of those ballads that's incredibly slow and wimpy. Just like "Symphony of Life", we get some vocals from Cloudy Yang, who I've mentioned before, isn't up to the expectations many power metal fans have. She sings her part like the pre-recorded one that Kesha would lip sync to on stage when doing a ballad. The funny thing is that the song actually could've been better. It could've had less of that pretentious pop singing of Yang and more of the dramatic vocals of Sammett. It could've also done away with the drum machines and just did the piano and the guitars. Then it would've been a much better song. Alas, that would never be, as "Sleepwalking" is the song that it is, even made into a single that unsurprisingly got bad press.
"Sleepwalking" aside, "The Mystery of Time" is one of Avantasia's greatest achievements since "The Metal Opera" albums. Yeah, there might be a few flaws here and there, but it did come very close to being just as good as "The Metal Opera" albums. It's a step up from anything released in the latter half of the 2000's, and is a more well done record. Its orchestration really helps to make the album the "rock epic" that it is.
Unlike most power metal fans, I don't like to think of Avantasia's change in direction as a 'downfall' - rather a curious alteration of style. Remember this is Tobias Sammet's band, and, love him or hate him, he can do what he wants with his own creation. I have enjoyed every single album this man has ever released, but all for different reasons. "The Mystery of Time" can be seen as a step towards the symphonic glory days of old. But don't forget what is written underneath the album title: "A Rock Epic". Sammet is not advertising this as a symphonic power metal album, and neither should it be judged as such.
I'll be the first to admit that this album did not make a big impact upon initial listening. The disc stopped spinning, leaving me thinking "...I don't remember anything" (except for a select few which I'll get to later). So "The Mystery of Time" is certainly one of those albums that needs to grow on you after repeated listens. The list of cameos is certainly impressive: Sascha Paeth, Oli Hartmann, Michael Kiske (!), Biff Byford (!!!) and many others. Kiske especially is used to his fantastic potential, but the others seem to be overshadowed by some lacklustre melody-writing on Sammet's behalf.
One other disappointment, is how the album presents itself. Firstly, the excellent album cover by Rodney Matthews: the mystical image of an antiquated moonlit town, fast asleep, whilst some Tolkien-inspired creatures perform a mysterious ritual under cover of darkness. It's some truly magical artwork, but regrettably does not suit the character of the music contained within. Also, after reading the booklet, I realized this was supposed to be a concept album about scientist Aaron Blackwell. Even more regrettably, this is not communicated effectively, despite the awesome time-related song titles ("The Watchmaker's Dream", "Saviour in the Clockwork", "Where Clock Hands Freeze").
However, the actual quality of the music on offer is certainly of some of the highest of Sammet's career (minus a few mishaps here and there). "Spectres" is a fine opener, making good use of the orchestra and setting the mood appropriately with the lyrics: 'Through the shimmer on this cold alley paving...'. "Invoke The Machine" puts the pedal to the metal, recalling hard-hitting Avantasia tracks like "Scales of Justice". "Dweller In a Dream" may as well be on the newest Edguy album (no, that's not an insult), a well-executed typical power metal anthem in classic Tobias Sammet style. The album closes appropriately with "The Great Mystery": a 10-minute progressively-tinged number with a wonderful final climax, bringing to mind prog rock greats of the 1970s such as Yes or The Enid.
Before I talk about this album's crowning moment - let's sift through the dreck on "The Mystery of Time". Track 3, "Black Orchid", completely destroys the momentum built up by the first 2 songs, by being a slow-paced trudge which lasts 2 minutes too long. The brilliant video for "Sleepwalking" unfortunately does not mask the hideously dull nature of this song. I'm sure it would work well as a European pop single, but in this self-pronounced 'Rock Epic', it is severely misplaced (especially as it follows the best track on the album). Finally, "What's Left of Me" ironically describes itself - it sounds like what's left; a waste.
And yet, "The Mystery of Time" has birthed what I consider to be my favourite power metal song of the year: "Where Clock Hands Freeze" (Superb title!). This 4-minute masterpiece is the only track on the album to really fit both its own title and the concept of the album as a whole. The tempo is finally lifted to classic Euro-power standards, Kiske's vocals are a wonder to behold, and the melodies soar among the clouds, leaving behind a sense of ethereal beauty. The chorus gives me goosebumps every time. Even if you never listen to "The Mystery of Time", if you are a power metal fan, you need this track somewhere in your collection.
So there are a few gripes: I'm not quite sure if the amount of symphonics used warrants the use of an actual 60-piece symphony orchestra. Jorn Lande is sorely missed. And the whole artwork/concept debacle is fundamentally flawed. But Tobi's vocals are stunning as usual, Kiske brings an added tinge of magic to the whole package, the choir (when allowed to shine) are superb, and "Where Clock Hands Freeze" is worth the price of the album alone. My advice: Don't treat this as a symphonic power metal album, enjoy it for the 'Rock Epic' it is advertised as.
"Will you deny what you see?
Tear down the nature of reason
That has shown you the way!
Where clock hands freeze...
Tobias Sammet wanted to close the Avantasia chapter after the conclusion of "The Wicked Trilogy" and focus on his main band Edguy. After the somewhat inconsistent assimilation compilation that was “The Wicked Symphony” and the rather lukewarm filler album “Angel of Babylon”, I thought that this would be an excellent idea. The last Edguy records had also been of decreasing quality, especially the silly and vapid “Age of the Joker” and I felt that Tobias Sammet needed a creative break. Finally, he didn’t take the break and worked on a new record that has now come out under the title “The Mystery of Time”.
I was skeptical but this record turns out to be better than the two previous Edguy and Avantasia releases. It’s still not an outstanding record but overall fairly better than I would have expected. The production and sound quality is great, the cover artwork is very well done and the concept has become more intriguing as the very loose previous scenario.
Musically, the project also improved. For the first time, the project hired a true orchestra that sounds more authentic, majestic and vivid and manages to add a special touch to the release. The opening moments of “Spectres” already leave a very positive impression and kick off the new record with a big bang. The authentic orchestral elements make the record sound more organic.
The project also manages to sound more metal orientated than on the last double record. There are still a few fluffy ballads on the album but the conservative and repetitive hard rock approaches are mostly gone and a few powerful metal moments can be found on this release. The record is not as great as the first three Avantasia records but definitely a step back into the right direction.
Thankfully, Tobias Sammet also decided to focus only on a few guest musicians and singers instead of adding an artist of every single band he ever liked to the project as he did before. The record sounds in fact more consistent and has a clear guiding line. Sometimes, less can be more and that’s what perfectly describes this release. Jorn Lande who is a strong singer but who was definitely too present on the two previous records, didn’t participate this time but other well-known members of the Avantasia universe are back on here. Michael Kiske is solid as always and delivers a great performance on a few quite good but unoriginal power metal tracks that should please to fans of the first two metal operas as in “Dweller in a Dream”. Bob Catley of Magnum fame is also back and convinces me even a little bit more than before in the epic album closer “The Great Mystery” that happens to be the best track Tobias Sammet has written in at least five years. Cloudy Yang is also on board and adds her charming down to earth appearance to the kitsch ballad and single “Sleepwalking” but she ultimately can’t save that radio airplay track that never reaches the magic of ballads like “Farewell”, “Inside” or even “Lost In Space” that the project has done before. In addition to these guests, there are also a few new faces. Especially Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids fame adds a truly energizing touch to the release by performing parts of the heaviest song on the record which is “Invoke the Machine”.
In the end, this album sounds more consistent and powerful than the two records before and it won’t disappoint any AvantasiaA fan. You can find well elaborated epics, melodic power metal anthems, commercial radio rock ballads and stuff somewhere between epic hard rock and heavy metal on this album. There are no big surprises or truly unique tracks though and I miss some sort of development or experimentation. Nevertheless, the release includes two stunning pieces with the heavy “Invoke The Machine” and the epic “The Mystery Of Time”. Other tracks also have potential to grow. The bonus song “The Cross Is You” is rarely mentioned in critics but I want to underline it as this song offers maybe the best vocal performance by Tobias Sammet on this record along with the atmospheric and perfectly entitled “Black Orchid” and is worth your time and attention. Power metal fans and Avantasia maniacs shouldn’t miss this record. Anybody who wants to discover this project should though start with the first three albums that clearly overpass this release. Critical minds should also listen to the tracks I have pointed out. This album is not the biggest highlight of the year but definitely far better than I expected.
Originally written for The Metal Observer
Avantasia, for me, has been quite a love/hate relationship. I really enjoyed the Metal Opera, Part I. Part II was more or less an abortion. The Scarecrow revolutionized my perspective on metal music. The Wicked Symphony was one of my favourite albums. But then I started paying attention to the lyrics.
This is yet another great line-up. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Tobias Sammet is the weakest link in Avantasia. He's a good singer. That is to say, he has great vocal technique. His voice is a little annoying and his vibrato is a little absurd (though perfect at times, see chorus of Savior in the Clockwork). However, surrounding himself with great singers such as Jørn Lande, Russel Allen and Bob Catley really makes him fall into the shadows. Sascha Paeth is an outstanding guitarist, and one of my all time favourites. The drumming doesn't amaze me, but I don't have much of an ear for drums. The bass is hardly in the mix at all, but hey, that's power metal.
The songwriting here is actually pretty great. The use of the orchestra is incredibly generic, but again, that's power metal. The soundscaping is also nice, and the production is astounding. But. These lyrics. Are. Terrible. I feel like Tobias Sammet got a hat (maybe the one he wore and lost during the Flying Opera), and in that hat put in a bunch of metal sounding stuff (dead of night, primal screams, etc) mixed with ones that fit into a clockwork aesthetic (I don't find examples necessary here), a few big words that a fair amount of native English speakers might not know (epiphanic, Phantasmagoria) and perhaps a few helping verbs and article adjectives (the, are, etc), and pulled them out and random just hoping to form rhyme schemes. Either that, or he resorted to what he did so blatantly in the Wicked Trilogy and just pieced together some enigmatic crap and try to pass it off as artistic. But it's not. It's empty.
Normally, I can let substandard lyrics pass off without too much issue. I mean, words by themselves are not music, and I call myself a musician, not a poet. And because of that I must admit the music here is quite good. But I can't let this crime against English writing go unpunished. I'll leave you off with a few of my favourites (not including the piece of crap with which I named this review):
"If you don't follow your self- preservation drive
They'll crucify the one who won't affiliate"
"Welcome to the aftermath of the incidence
That made the tower fall"
"My heart beat quickens I behold the god-machine
I can't help but write history"
What. The. Hell.
And this of course is without even including "Sleepwalking" into my critique. I'm being generous in that aspect. Don't get me wrong, a good ballad can be absolutely great ("The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight," "Always Will Be," etc.) but this isn't even worth the mention. I instantly regret bringing it up. Cheers, and happy listening.
Avantasia is the reason I weep for the modern world of power metal.
Put me in the camp of people who have been underwhelmed since Avantasia's return about 5-6 years ago with The Scarecrow. Since then, they've released 3 more albums, completed a second full story arc, and have started a third with "The Mystery of Time." The Mystery of Time does little to break the mold of Avantasia. Aside from a roster of musicians that is heavily geared towards rock musicians of Tobias's preference (having Uriah Heep's drummer, a fair bit of Bob Catley again, and Tobi's jagged voice, to start), there is absolutely nothing on this album you have not heard before. More on that in a minute.
The Mystery of Time was recorded with a full orchestra, but months later I'm still scratching my head wondering why Tobias wasted everyone's time, money, and energy putting an orchestra in the background of this bloated hour of music. There are songs without any orchestra (Invoke the Machine) and songs that rely heavily on them (album opener Spectres). Most of the time, the orchestra is barely audible and adds very little to the song. Spectres has a nice balance of rock band and orchestra, but after that it's kind of downhill. There's no consistency to this album - the album shifts moods at a jarring, uneasy rate. Black Orchid is a dreary, forgettable, annoying song that is twice as long as it should be. It then leads into the soaring Where Clock Hands Freeze with Michael Kiske, which is the high point of the album. From there, it immediately switches to a contemporary pop number. The switch is just too jarring and the songs seem to have nothing to do with one another. For an alleged concept album, this is a bad thing.
That's just the beginning of my problems with this album. All of the vocalists, with the exception of Michael Kiske, sound completely over-the-hill. The performances on this album sound pathetic, as if they were recorded once and everyone went, "That's fine!" Throughout the entire album we are forced to listen to Tobias's voice, which, over the last several years, has become little more than a terribly nasally, jagged shout/moan/exaggerated syllable that bears striking resemblance to a pissed off housecat. On The Watchmaker's Dream you can hear the guest vocalist actually crack his voice a couple times as the song goes on. Excluding Michael Kiske, the album really does sound like an album of aging men attempting to do something relevant but kind of missing the mark. On Where Clock Hands Freeze, two bars before the first chorus, Michael Kiske sustains a note and then unleashes a power metal scream that leaves you wondering how the hell this guy has kept his voice in such remarkable condition. The next time this bridge comes in, Tobias is on vocals, and just shouts the last note. Instead of leading into the chorus with some lyrics or his signature whiny scream, we're simply treated to the most underwhelming drum fill/solo (two bars' worth) that I have ever heard. For fuck's sake, it's pathetic. Jorn Lande's absence is really felt on this release.
This whole album reeks of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman. There are hardly any metal moments on this album, but the few there are actually do sound good. Tobias can still write a mean, MEAN hook (Where Clock Hands Freeze, Savior In The Clockwork) but the reality is there are so many uninspired, unnecessarily drawn out musical ideas that it sound stale. It gets tiresome extremely fast. Every song has at least a little bit of filler, except maybe Where Clock Hands Freeze, which is more reminiscent of The Scarecrow. The *entire* title track is an exercise in exhausting, overblown rock concepts, just like everything Meat Loaf has done since Bat Out Of Hell 2. I actually looked through the booklet waiting to see Steinman
This version of Avantasia is why I weep for power metal. Tobias Sammet is arguably the most prolific artist to have graced the genre at this point and it's easy to make the case that he is one of the most important figures in it. However, the music has become little more than a bland, half-assed rock opera utilizing Tobias's idols to flesh out the musical lines Tobias is no longer capable of singing. There are very few songs that matter, and most of them are too long (Savior In The Clockwork, The Great Mystery, the latter of which I have never been patient enough to finish more than once), some are too boring (What's Left of Me), some are a combination of the two (Black Orchid). Dweller In A Dream sounds *exactly* like Rocket Ride-era Edguy, and Where Clock Hands Freeze, while a gorgeous, catchy song, brings *nothing* new to the table. Not one song on this album makes me think, "Yeah, that's the Avantasia I know and love." Even the mediocre Angel of Babylon's first few tracks are pretty solid.
Oh, and by the way, I'm not a guitarist so I don't know if there's a term for this, but tell Sascha Paeth to knock it the fuck off with his style of playing. It ruins everything I love about Avantasia. It ruined Scales of Justice on The Wicked Symphony (about halfway through when it stops kicking ass), it comes back in spades throughout this album (especially the second verse of Sleepwalking), and if I hear it rehashed through another five shitty songs two years from now I may just throw all of my Avantasia albums off the freeway.
Check out Spectres and Where Clock Hands Freeze, and if you like those, give the album a shot, but coming from a once-huge Avantasia fan, I'm sorely disappointed with this. The only reason I purchased it was because I came across it by chance at a Best Buy for $10.
Let’s just get one thing out of the way right now. “Sleepwalking” is an embarrassment. It’s just awful. It’s another abject ‘soft verse/booming chorus’ pop ballad that stands out a mile from the rest of the CD around it. It’s no more or less than an empty, lifeless, cynical attempt to sell Avantasia to a wider market than their usual demographic; I know it, you know it and, moreover, Toby knows it.
With that hideousness out of the way, Avantasia’s 6th full-length CD is another patchy affair that wobbles between the sublime and the not-so-sublime with regularity. Very much in the mould of the 3 previous Sascha Paeth-produced CDs, it doesn’t offer too many surprises but, the aforementioned defilement aside, is a bit more consistent and restrained than the sprawling ‘The wicked symphony’/’Angel of Babylon’ double offering.
Thankfully the Jim Steinman-inspired pomp rock that swamped much of ‘Angel of Babylon’ has been reigned in a bit, and at least 4 of the 9 credible songs on here should have those pining for a the power metal Avantasia of old feeling all nostalgic. The rest of the songs tend more towards a more bombastic symphonic approach that in some cases succeeds and in others is found somewhat lacking.
As this would suggest, ‘The mystery of time’ proves to be very much a CD of contrasts – for all the more reduced roster of guest musicians, it also features a full orchestra on some songs, and while the power metal quotient is probably slightly higher than it has been in a while, 3 of the 6 male guest vocalist fall into the “brash and ballsy” category.
Michael Kiske and Bob Catley of course make their customary appearances, but Joe Lynn Turner is the most prominent guest presence on the CD, with Saxon’s Biff Byford also cropping up from time to time and Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids making an excellent single contribution on the rollicking “Invoke the machine”. This is one of the more power metal-oriented songs, and while it is maybe a little cluttered, it’s also plenty energetic and features some cracking lead guitar from Oliver Hartmann.
“Where clock hands freeze” is another of the pounding double-bass numbers and features Kiske’s most prominent performance, with Sammet even managing to coax a bit of the old high-register stuff out of him, which is simply a joy to behold. For all the frustrations Sammet has inflicted over the last few Edguy and Avantasia CDs, I suppose he will always be due a debt of gratitude for gradually easing Kiske back where he belongs.
Getting back to those bass pedals, possibly the most pleasantly surprising announcement in the run-up to ‘The mystery of time’ being released was the news that Uriah Heep’s Russell Gilbrook had been snagged as the drummer. He’s a stunningly energetic performer who has helped breathe new life into his parent band, and while Sammet and Paeth maybe don’t quite get the best out of him, he still puts in a sprightly and varied set of performance on the faster stuff.
It can be no coincidence that the 2nd track, and the first to feature Gilbrook prominently is “The watchmaker’s dream” which is shrouded in some delightfully old-fashioned organ noodling from Miro Rodenberg which is reminiscent of the Heep at their most exhuberant.
The longer, orchestral songs don’t quite have the same impactas the nippier tracks, and are often left feeling quite bitty. By their very nature less comact, they each feature some inspired sections typically being undercut by more tiresome fits of chugging guitars, most notably on the lacklustre opener “Spectres” and the over-long “Black orchid”.
Sandwiched in amongst this battle for dominance between the 2 main styles is the tender, and yes, rather cheesy ballad “What’s left of me”. A little predictable to be sure, it nonetheless is a stand-out on the CD, thanks in no small part to the soulful vocals of Eric Martin in his single appearance. While some of the longer songs tend to flounder around a few different approaches without really making a connection, this song manages to hit an emotional bullseye despite – or perhaps, because of – its more restrained arrangement.
The difference between the emotions that followed the announcement of ‘The scarecrow’ being released with that of ‘The mystery of time’ couldn’t really be more marked, with the former triggering a wave of elation and the latter a quick “oh that’s cool, I guess”. It’s pretty safe to say that the mystique of the project has been diminished somewhat with each passing release, and while the shivering feeling of revulsion that followed that first listen to “Lost in space” back in 2007 has never really gone away, if you’re prepared to swallow the tasteless business-minded single and focus on the rest of the CD, ‘The mystery of time’ will prove to be generally quite satisfying.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
"The Mystery Of Time" is the sixth studio album of the rock opera project, Avantasia. The project offers a very good new album that rivals some of its past achievements. The use of a real orchestra proves to be a welcome addition, creating a bigger and more captivating sound than before.
The cast of musicians includes Tobias Sammet on bass and lead vocals, Sascha Paeth (ex-Heaven's Gate) on guitars, and Russell Gilbrook (Uriah Heep) on drums, and guest guitarists Bruce Kulick (ex-Kiss, ex-Meat Loaf), Oliver Hartmann (ex-At Vance), and Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon). The Mystery Of Time is also the first Avantasia album to feature the German film orchestra Babelsberg.
The list of guest vocalists is expectantly impressive and includes Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Rainbow, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Biff Byford (Saxon), Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Bob Catley (Magnum), and Cloudy Yang.
The album offers a variety of hard rock, symphonic rock, power metal, and pop rock. The overall sound doesn’t differ a lot from The Wicked Trilogy releases, but the orchestra surely makes things more interesting and the vocals are more evenly distributed.
There are many highlights among the songs and only two of them sound rather weak or filler-like. The major highlights include the longest song on offer entitled “Savior In The Clockwork”. A varied hard rock track, with doses of power metal, containing several tempo changes, great vocals by Biff Byford and Tobias Sammet, a big chorus, short performances by Joe Lynn Turner and Michael Kiske and very good guitar work by Bruce Kulick. “Where Clock Hands Freeze” is another highlight. It is the mandatory Michael Kiske-fronted power metal track, featuring Kiske’s best performance on an Avantasia song and the best chorus on the album. “Black Orchid” is the darkest song on offer and features a duet between Byford and Sammet, another great chorus, prominent orchestral passages and a captivating atmosphere. The fourth major highlight is the second longest track and perfect album closer, “The Great Mystery”. A big ballad-type of song with several tempo changes that combine influences from Magnum to The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Bob Catley and Sammet do a very good job on the vocals, the chorus is memorable, and the orchestra shines as well.
Besides the album’s strong points, there are also some flaws. The biggest flaw is the absence of longer and more technical guitar solos and the low mix of the guitars (in parts). At some instances it seems that the guitars are not very important and that all the weight is placed on the orchestra and the vocals. Another disadvantage is the weak pop ballad “Sleepwalking”, which ruins the flow of the album and the mediocre hard rocker, “The Watchmaker’s Dream”, which features an unimpressive Joe Lynn Turner and a weak chorus. The final minor flaw is the use of certain tempo changes, on some songs, that don’t necessarily work for the best.
In conclusion, "The Mystery Of Time" is a great rock opera release. It flows better than the previous three Avantasia albums and includes only a small number of weak songs. Most guest vocalists do a great job and their roles are overall more prominent compared to past releases. The orchestra is a great addition and works well, as it is used wisely. Personally, I view the new installment as one of the stronger Avantasia albums, which surpasses Angel Of Babylon, The Metal Opera Part II and probably even The Scarecrow.
(Originally written for http://www.amazon.co.uk website)
It's a foregone conclusion that regardless of the outcry from numerous older fans of butchering a once powerful sound, Tobias Sammet will continue to insist that he has remained consistent in his approach from day one regarding his work with Edguy and Avantasia. Sure, there will be an admission of an evolution of sound guided by the spirit of the time in question, but at no point will a mea culpa regarding a drop in quality be acknowledged from the same guy that went from the brilliance of "Mandrake" to the over-the-top buffoonery of "Age Of The Joker". But while the jury is still out on whether Edguy will put out another album that's worth the average power metal enthusiast's time, some positive reforms are going on regarding the sound of Avantasia of late, thought they seem to be of the painfully gradual variety, as Toby seems hellbent on clinging to a number of the same errors that took this projects post-2002 material into the toilet.
"The Mystery Of Time" recovers lost ground primarily in the songwriting department, as a rekindled interest in the olden fantasy subjects has been given its proper prominence again, and along with it a more metallic edge. It's particularly noticeable on the faster numbers such as "Where Clock Hands Freeze" and "Invoke The Machine", the former of which features a brilliant vocal display out of Michael Kiske that takes one back to the high flying majesty heard on his work with this project early on. Both of these songs definitely bring in a familiar element of catchy hooks, but largely manages to avoid the muddied mess of rock guitar noise heard on the last couple albums. Similarly, when things go longer there is a bit less meandering from one section to the next, though nothing on here reaches the same pinnacle accomplished on "Seven Angels". Perhaps the closest contender to holding a candle to the earlier days in the down tempo department is the album's opener "Spectres", which does remind a bit of the closing song off the first "Metal Opera" album in "The Tower", particularly in its usage of brief piano ballad sections to counterbalance an otherwise heavier anthem.
Naturally, a gradual move towards a better sound of this sort is mired by some past pitfalls, and a few really blatant stains on an obviously tainted recent history have yet to be washed off. The worst offender is the limp-wrist pop ballad "Sleepwalking", which is 100% unfathomable sonic rubbish that will offend any ear that is uncomfortable with Matchbox 20 meets Coldplay drivel being on a metal album. Things take a slight step up on the second fit of balladry "What's Left Of Me", which comes off more as a 3rd rate homage to Meatloaf (a common well for Tobias to draw from, and one that he has done far better with in the past). What is perhaps most annoying about these songs is that they are utterly generic and unmemorable, and apart from the superior vocal abilities of the likes of Billy Byford, Joe Lynn Turner and Bob Catley, is indistinguishable from the ever expanding pile of rubbish populating rock radio of late. But one thing that is almost as annoying is the garbled, mushy guitar tone that Sascha Paeth keeps using to punish the ears of those who want to hear an actual power metal album. In the early 2000s, Henjo Richter brought a punchy, clear, speed metal-like character to what would otherwise have been an extremely formulaic latter day Helloween homage, and his presence probably would have helped a number of these songs quite a bit.
There seems to be a growing consensus that "The Mystery Of Time" is a departure from the so-called "The Scarecrow" sound, which also hints at a return to the good old days. I agree with this sentiment in part, as Toby appears to be looking for something musically, but has stopped a bit short of actually finding it and taking ownership of it yet again. Older guard fans of this band back in the days when Stratovarius, Helloween and Gamma Ray were having a more direct influence on Sammet's sound are advised to approach this album with a degree of caution and with a bit less cash in hand. In fact, those going the digital route are encouraged to skip over purchasing the ballads on here and pretending that they don't exist. Better yet, while at it, one would do well to pretend that this project hadn't put out anything since 2002 and keep hoping that this project will, in time, do the same.
Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 3, 2013.
The Mystery of Time features yet another all star lineup. Outside of Sammet's constant presence, the album features Michael Kiske, Biff Byford, Arjen Anthony Lucassen, and Joe Lynn Turner just to name a few. There are many new vocal presences in the album, different from the usual heard in Avantasia's past, and it really helps create a refreshing and new sound to the project. As usual however, the production and orchestrations, instrumentation, choir presence, and vocal layering are absolutely spot on. Upon first listen to the album however, I wasn't completely sold. I felt like a few of the songs were hollow and emotionless. Unlike my favorite albums, The Metal Opera I and II and The Scarecrow, I didn't get pulled into the record right away. Listening to the album four or five times however, I saw the album for what it truly is, a quite flawlessly executed rock opera.
The first track on “Spectres” begins slowly and doesn't feel like a proper way to kick off an album. The drum work is more fitting of a faster tempo thrash song than the mellow presence of the music throughout the verses. However, as soon as the chorus kicked in I felt that rush of joy and sheer happiness typically expected when listening to Avantasia. Tracks like “The Watchmakers Dream” and “Black Orchid” manage to bring back all of that which I love from Sammet, strong, soaring choruses and beautiful guitar work from Arjen Lucassen. Biff Byford joins in, bringing with him that raw, true heavy metal roughness that is found in Saxon, and has an amazing way of rounding out and complementing Sammet's vocals. “Where Clock Hands Freeze” and “Dweller in a Dream” feature the ever amazing, and never aging voice of Michael Kiske himself. Kiske brings such a crisp, soaring presence to a song that is simply unmatched.
The ballad-like “Sleepwalking” features the familiar female vocal accompaniment of Cloudy Yang. Her vocal presence brings an ever pop-like sound to the album, but it is a beautiful song nonetheless. Two 10 minute long songs “Savior in the Clockwork” and “The Great Mystery” truly make this album strong and epic, while tracks like “Invoke the Machine” bring a serious heavy metal vibe, featuring Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids. This is easily one of the best tracks on the album, blending that epic power metal sound of choruses and keyboards with perfect and heavy thrashing elements.
The album as a whole manages to, as usual, feature not only the musical artistry of Tobias Sammet, but also brings together names from all over the rock and metal genre to show off each individual's talent. Personally, I am so happy that Avantasia is still alive and kicking. The Mystery of Time is absolutely an album to be proud of, and for any fans of power metal, Edguy, or previous Avantasia albums, there are absolutely elements of all three in these songs for you to enjoy. Here's to another great album thanks to Tobias Sammet, cheers!
[Originally written for Metalwani.com, TheMetalReview.com, & Metalholic.com]